Terror group Hamas calls choice 'shameful and disrespectful'

In first, Israel elected to head a permanent UN committee

Danny Danon hails ‘historic achievement,’ will chair General Assembly’s legal panel, which also deals with counter-terrorism

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks at the anti-BDS conference at the General Assembly on May 31, 2016. (Shahar Azran)
Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks at the anti-BDS conference at the General Assembly on May 31, 2016. (Shahar Azran)

For the first time ever, Israel was elected to head a permanent committee at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly, despite intense efforts by Arab and Muslim states to stop the nomination.

In a secret ballot Monday in New York, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon was elected chairman of the GA’s Sixth Committee, which deals with legal issues.

“This is a historic achievement for the State of Israel. We broke the glass ceiling: Despite the opposition of many countries, including Iran and others that tried to prevent the vote, we managed to be elected for the first time to head a committee at the UN,” Danon said.

In the past, Israeli diplomats have presided over other, less prestigious committees at the UN and even co-chaired the GA, but never headed one of the GA’s six main committees. “The Sixth Committee is the primary forum for the consideration of legal questions in the General Assembly,” according to the UN.

Among the issues it is expected to deal with at this fall’s GA are “measures to eliminate international terrorism,” and “the rule of law at the national and international levels.”

“One of Ambassador Danon’s first tasks in his new position will be to further the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism,” the Israeli delegation to the UN in New York said in a press release.

“Israel is a world leader in international law and in fighting terrorism. We are pleased to have the opportunity to share our knowledge with the countries of the world,” Danon said.

He was nominated for the job by the Western European and Others Group in the UN, whose turn it was to pick a chairman for the committee. Israel has been a temporary member of the Western European and Others Group since 2000 and joined permanently in December 2013.

The chairmanships of the GA main committees are allocated on a rotational basis and are usually confirmed without a vote. In this case, however, Yemen, on behalf of the Arab Group, challenged Israel’s nomination and asked for a vote. In a secret ballot Monday, in which all 193 UN member states could vote, Israel was elected. Congratulations immediately started pouring in from Western states that supported Jerusalem’s bid.

The Palestinians had started protesting Israel’s nomination last week. “It is ironic that Israel, a state that continues to breach international law and conventions, international humanitarian law and countless UN resolutions, is being nominated to head a legal committee that aims to promote international law and protect basic human rights and freedoms,” Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestine Liberation Organization official, said Wednesday.

By nominating Israel, the West European and Other Group, which includes Australia and New Zealand, was “making a mockery of the international legal system and rewarding Israel for its flagrant violations of international law and acts of collective punishment and violence,” Ashrawi added.

On Sunday, the Arab League convened diplomats from the countries planning to nominate Israel for the Sixth Committee chairmanship and informed them of the Arab world’s displeasure with the move. It does not make sense for Israel to chair the GA’s legal committee as long as the country continues to violate the Palestinians’ basic rights, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby told the Western diplomats.

The Hamas terrorist organization slammed Israel’s nomination as “shameful and disrespectful to UN rules and bylaws,” with the group’s spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri calling on the UN to retract the “catastrophic” move.

“This nomination encourages the occupation to continue its terrorist policies against the Palestinian people,” he stated in a press release.

Other players also took steps to fight Israel’s nomination, such as the Non-Aligned Movement. Iran, for instance, tried to send a letter to UN member states urging them to reject the Israeli candidacy. “The Iranian letter was not published and their attempt failed,” according to the Israeli UN delegation, which credited itself and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for a “lengthy and difficult diplomatic battle” to ensure the successful vote.

“We will not allow dictatorships and anti-Israel countries to harm our standing in the international community. Those who tried to block our appointment would be well advised to take note of the jurisdiction of this committee, as they have much to learn about international law,” Danon declared.

The Palestinians’ “hysterical” reaction to Israel’s nomination was nothing new, Daniel Meron, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s UN and international organizations division, told The Times of Israel on Monday.

“Time after time, whenever Israel comes up with a candidate for a post or an initiative, there is an attempt by the Arab Group to challenge Israel,” he said. Even when Israel proposes moves to help advance developing countries, the Arabs will always try to sabotage it, he added.

“It is ridiculous behavior. It singles them out, not Israel.”

read more: